Nonprofit navigation

How do you decide who deserves your money?

Mackenzie Banta of the Nevada Wilderness Project plays with her dog in the Black Rock Desert.

Mackenzie Banta of the Nevada Wilderness Project plays with her dog in the Black Rock Desert.

Photo By David Robert

For more information about charitable giving, visit the Institute of Philanthropy at www.charitywatch.org, Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at Give.org and Charity Navigator at CharityNavigator.org. A list of local nonprofits can be found in Nevada EcoNet’s Green Guide, also available online at www.nevadaeconet.org/directory.html .

Donating money to a nonprofit environmental organization is a seemingly win-win situation. You get to make a difference with the swipe of a pen and write off the expenditure in the bargain, while the recipients get to improve their programming and advance their cause. The question is: With so many laudable groups out there, how do you decide which way to go?

“The first thing you should do is figure out your core values and look for an organization that makes a good match,” says Mackenzie Banta, development director of the Nevada Wilderness Project, a local nonprofit group.

Look at the group’s mission statement, and browse its website. Are you concerned about wilderness? Animals? Oceans? Whatever your cause, there is a nonprofit organization that needs your support.

With many organizations, you can simply call them up and ask questions. “You have the chance for personal contact with the staff,” says Banta. “You can see what kind of response you get and whether or not you have a good rapport with them. Find out what they’re working on and what kind of energy they have.”

Beth Dilly, philanthropy director at the Nature Conservancy in Reno, agrees. “Accessibility of an organization’s staff is key,” she says, adding that it’s important for donors to be able to see firsthand what their contributions are accomplishing. The Nature Conservancy regularly schedules field trips and special events for supporters to show the progress being made on different projects.

Oftentimes, a nonprofit group will welcome the donation of time and expertise as much as they would a financial contribution. “Your personal assets include your time,” says Banta. “Our volunteers help with everything from mailing newsletters to organizing special events.”

If you would like to know how your money will be spent, investigate ahead of time. For larger environmental organizations, consult the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at Give.org or CharityNavigator.org. Give.org has an excellent section called “Tips on Charitable Giving,” and they provide the opportunity to inquire and complain about specific organizations. Charity Navigator has been evaluating the fiscal responsibility and operational sustainability of charities for seven years, and their ratings are as current as the institutions’ financial statements are issued. They also offer an informative set of guides to “intelligent giving.”

You can also look at ratings assembled by impartial parties like the American Institute of Philanthropy at Charitywatch.org. They divide nonprofit organizations into categories, so it’s easy to see who scores well in different arenas, from child protection to veterans and the military. Top-rated green groups include the World Resources Institute and Greenpeace.

“It’s also important to look at the way nonprofits leverage the private contributions they receive,” says Dilly. For example, the Nature Conservancy raised $300,000 to purchase its McCarran Ranch property and subsequently leveraged $6 million in public funds to restore wetlands and manage riparian habitat.

So look before you leap, but be sure to leap.